R.I.P. Tommy LiPuma

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017
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R.I.P. Tommy LiPuma

Producer Tommy LiPuma died yesterday at the age of 80. In his lifetime, he won five Grammy Awards, received 33 Grammy nominations, and if you were to add up the sales of all of the albums he produced over the course of his career, you’d pass the 75 million mark and keep right on going.

During his childhood, LiPuma suffered a bone infection which led him to spend a fair amount of time in bed, which is a fate that no kid should have to suffer. Thankfully, there was a silver lining to this sickly situation: while in bed, he listened to the radio, falling in love with the songs he was hearing and finding himself moved to try music himself. Although he had his eye on blowing the tenor sax for a living, he soon found himself an entry-level job with a music distribution company in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, which in turn led him to become the local promotions rep for the company. By 1961, he held the same job title at Liberty Records, but he quickly became a jack of all trades, learning the ropes of the music publishing business and – more importantly to his overall career arc –beginning to produce demo sessions for future starts like Jackie DeShannon, Randy Newman, and P.J. Proby. Finally, toward the end of 1964, LiPuma produced his first session for actual release – “Lipstick Traces,” by The O’Jays – and after that, he rarely looked back.

After serving as staff producer for A&M, LiPuma founded Blue Thumb Records, after which he was an A&R staff producer for Warner Brothers. He would later be put in charge of the A&M imprint Horizon Records, served as VP of Jazz and Progressive Music at Warner Brothers, became Senior VP at Elektra Records, and ultimately closed out his career working for GRP and Verve Records. In other words, LiPuma kept pretty damned busy, and over the course of his career, he worked with just a remarkable number of artists, including – but in no way limited to – George Benson, Al Jarreau, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, Miles Davis, Everything but the Girl, Aztec Camera, Randy Crawford, Brenda Russell, Ruben Blades, Joe Sample, Jimmy Scott, and Natalie Cole.

To celebrate LiPuma’s life in music, we’ve put together a compilation of tracks from artists he produced within our roster. It’s in no way comprehensive, but it’s more than amazing enough to reveal his talent and to highlight the loss that’s felt within the music world by his passing.